IBF heavyweight champion Chris Byrd is by far the slickest heavyweight in the division today. His style in the ring can make any levelheaded fighter lose concentration and break away from their fight plan. With moves that remind you of the great Muhammad Ali with a dash of spice, it’s no wonder that he is the IBF heavyweight champ. With wins over such fighters as the great Evander Holyfield, hard-hitting David Tua and the towering titan Vitali Klitschko, his eleven year professional career has produced a record of 37-2-1 (20) and he has picked up such belts as the USBA heavyweight title, WBU International heavyweight title, and the WBO and IBF heavyweight belts along the way. A silver medal winner as a middleweight in the 1992 Olympics, he doesn’t have the size of many today’s heavyweights so he relies on his skill, speed and wisdom when he gets in the ring, a triple combination threat that has worked for him on several occasions. On November 13th 2004 at Madison Square Garden in New York City the IBF champ will put his title on the line against his good friend and very talented fighter Jameel McCline. McCline, who stands around 5 inches taller and has an 8 inch reach advantage against the champ, will have his hands full for the night. It should be a great fight for the division and being friends doesn’t stop each other’s hunger to be the best. Jameel wants the title and Chris wants to keep it. The IBF heavyweight champion stopped by the Doghouse to talk boxing. In part one this interview Chris talks about his upcoming bout against McCline and talks about his bouts with Holyfield and Golota and what makes him tick as a fighter. Here is how it went.
Benny Henderson Jr.: What are your thoughts on your upcoming championship bout with Jameel McCline?
Chris Byrd: With Jameel I think it is going to be a really good fight. Jameel is a good boxer and he is a big, big man and he is getting better with every fight. He is also a good friend of mine but in the ring it is just competition and it’s about the best man winning. We are in a situation where we both have to fight each other and I think it is going to be a great fight. I have nothing bad to say about Jameel; he is a good fighter. He has proven himself with some really big wins. He is more than deserving to fight for the title.
BH: Is there anything about McCline’s style that concerns you, or are you changing anything to fight his style?
CB: No, not at all. I have seen Jameel fight many times and he has seen me fight many times. There is nothing that I could really do different in my style. All I do is train real hard and be in the best shape possible and fight the good fight. So I wouldn’t change anything.
BH: I talked with Jameel and he said that as a boxing idol he wants to destroy you and as a friend you both know it is just business, and after the fight you guys will possibly go out to eat together.
CB: Oh yes, you know like he said and I always say, we are really good friends. His wife is real good friends with my wife and visa versa. It is just business and we have to do it. It is competition, we get in the ring and we are not friends. We will go all out to try to win. We are at the highest level of boxing so we have to go all out may the best man win.
BH: I conducted an interview with Golota and I asked him if the bout you and he had was a fair decision. He said it wasn’t. What are your thoughts on that fight do you believe it was a fair decision?
CB: Honestly I thought it was a close fight. I thought I was doing enough to win the fight or a draw, I was like whatever. It was just a real close fight and I had a lot of fun in that fight. I fought out of the ordinary I fought a fight that I really shouldn’t have fought. I should have stuck to with more boxing, but I felt that Andrew really couldn’t hurt me and I wanted to give the New York fans really something to see since they were booing Fres Oquendo and John Ruiz. They were booing them pretty bad so I was like this show is not turning real good so it was up to me and Andrew to go out there and put on a good show. That was for the fans and they enjoyed it and had a good night of boxing with our bout. I thought it was an entertaining fight and the judges seen it like they seen it they seen it as a draw. Don King doesn’t have any favoritism towards me and it was in the judge’s hands.
BH: I’m glad that you brought that up. A lot of people say that King has the judges in his pocket and has favoritism with the judges, you don’t believe that?
CB: No, as a boxer and from watching things on the outside you tend to believe certain things. But we had a judges and referees big meeting here at Vegas and I got to speak at it. They denied any of those rumors. I brought it up, I was like you guys go out with the promoters are they in your pockets? Are you constantly doing things the promoters want you to do? Every single one of them that was there said it was a myth. They said they didn’t do anything like that. I kept asking questions and they seemed to be very honest in their answers that they don’t do anything for that promoter and that they could care less. They said they come to judge a fight and to do it right. Whatever they see in the ring that is how they are going to judge it. To have a meeting with the referees and judges trying to better themselves and the sport, it says a lot for them. I truly believe them and people can think what they want. With any fight that is close people always seem to say that the promoter had it fixed. I see it differently and I’m in the sport and any favor that has come my way it is in the judge’s hands. People can think what they want too.
BH: If there were a rematch with Golota how would you approach this fight?
CB: It would be a totally different fight tactical wise. I would box a lot more and try to stand in the middle of the ring a lot more and not be to concerned about being on the roped too much. He pushed me to the ropes and I don’t try to complain to the referee while I’m in the ring. He would step on my foot, when I got on the ropes he would purposely step on my foot. If you go back to the tape he was looking for my foot to purposely step on it and keep me trapped. A lot of big guys try to do that, which is an old school way of thinking. It’s a smart idea if the ref don’t say anything and he got away with it may times. My thoughts were he stepped on my foot and has me trapped and if he hits me with any punch and I go down it is considered a knock down so I stayed on the ropes. In a rematch I think it would be totally different, I would be a little more aggressive as far as getting him off me pushing him off and more vocal to the ref that he was stepping on my foot and trying to trap me. If the ref doesn’t do anything I have to do something to bring attention to myself to say hey this guy is doing this. I don’t want to have to be dirty in the ring but it comes to a point where I have to get dirty back.
BH: What do you feel your best quality is?
CB: I pride myself in having really good movement. I like thinking things out. To me this is a chess match and you try to figure out style and try to stay on it. I consider myself to be pretty smart and knowledgeable on the game. Not only watching but being in it while I am fighting. I try to put you in a chess situation so I can checkmate you in a fight.
BH: What has been your toughest challenge to date?
CB: Fight wise?
BH: Yes sir.
CB: Oh man, I have had many tough challenges. Both Klitschko fights were tough, Ike Ibeabuchi [laughs] obviously that was tough. Fres Oquendo was a tough fight and so was Golota. They all were tough because they had so many different styles and every style puts up a challenge. Even David Tua, just the pressure of knowing that with one punch he could knock you out at anytime. That was a major challenge for me trying to elude him for twelve rounds knowing that he has never been knocked off of his feet. I’m not the biggest power puncher in the world so going in I was like thinking of something throughout the whole fight to offset his style. I take none of these guys lightly so they all are tough challenges. I give them all the credit and every one of these guys come to fight.
BH: What has been your biggest accomplishment?
CB: Obviously as a professional wining the IBF heavyweight title against a guy like Evander Holyfield, even though it was past his peak. But still winning the title was one the greatest moments. It still doesn’t top my Olympic experience and wining the silver medal. That’s been the ultimate for me as far as over all boxing goes.
BH: How did it feel to step in the ring with heavyweight great Evander Holyfield, and then beat him?
CB: It was actually a bit awkward because I was a big fan of his. He was a professing Christian and a small heavyweight the type of guy I kind of idolized as being small and willing to face anybody in the division. He is a guy that I really admired and then being in the ring with him I was in awe at first until he hit me. Then I had to throw all that out the window.
BH: What advice would you give to a young fighter or somebody who was wanting to take up the sport of boxing?
CB: Oh man, it they are really interested, train! I mean you have to be really interested. Train real hard and be disciplined. You have to cut off a lot of things and sacrifice a lot of things to make it to the top of the sport. You have to work your tail off and there is no complaining, no short cuts or anybody telling you when to get up. You have to get up and run on your own and hit the gym. Through working hard you can go far in this sport. Those are the main things to boxing for me.
I would like to thank Chris’s business manager and wife Tracy Byrd for helping me with this interview. I would personally like to thank Chris for his time for Doghouse and the fans. We really appreciate it. Stay tuned for part two when Chris and I discuss his personal thoughts on life, his past and future in the sport and after his career.
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